While China has long had the ability to strike Guam with long-range nuclear missiles, the Chinese military is expending an increasing amount of resources to hit the key U.S. island with more conventional weapons in the event of a conflict, according to a government report released Tuesday.
The report, first reported on by the Washington Free Beacon and published by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, focuses on the threat posed by the recent introduction of new Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles and China’s ongoing efforts to refine technology that would allow their weapons to accurately hit U.S. assets on Guam and other surrounding islands.
Of particular concern, according to the report, is the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile. With a supposed range of 2,500 miles, the missile has been dubbed the “Guam Killer” or “Guam Express,” because of its ability to hit the U.S. island after being launched from mainland China.
“Combined with improved air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and modernizing support systems, the DF-26 would allow China to bring a greater diversity and quality of assets to bear against Guam in a contingency than ever before,” the report says.
The DF-26 is China’s first conventional ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam, and its modular design allows it to hold various types of warheads, including nuclear payloads. After its debut in a military parade in September, the missile “has likely been deployed as an operational weapon,” though in small numbers, according to the report.
Guam currently hosts upwards of 5,000 U.S. personnel, multiple military facilities, and four nuclear-powered submarines. Additionally, there is a contingent of rotating multi-role jet fighters and bombers, as well as the presence of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile battery that can detect and intercept ballistic missiles such as the DF-26.
While the report assesses an attack on Guam as low, the continued introduction and deployment of new weapons that can threaten U.S. interests in the region is part of a broader Chinese strategy designed to resist U.S. responses to its territorial claims.
Nowhere is this resistance more apparent than in the South China Sea, where China has continually funneled military resources, including surface to air and anti-ship missiles, onto a slew of man-made islands in an effort to secure its self-proclaimed territorial waters. Numerous islands in the area have been claimed by multiple countries, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The United States, in support of its regional allies, has contested Chinese claims by playing a game of brinkmanship in the form of what the Pentagon calls “Freedom of Navigation Operations.” On Tuesday, the USS William P. Lawrence, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 miles of a Chinese claimed island, prompting an immediate Chinese response in the form of three warships and a detachment of fighter aircraft that responded to the area. It was the third such operation since October.
According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the U.S. destroyer entered the area without China’s permission and “threatened China’s sovereignty.”
U.S. officials said the operation was well within the bounds of international law and demonstrated that the United States will not be deterred by China’s claims.